Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Tagged for Removal: Paint, snot and a less blighted Harrisburg.

City resident Justin Heinly dons a heavy smock and smears on “Elephant Snot” to remove graffiti on a building in Midtown Harrisburg.

There’s a killer substance that goes by the less-than-elegant name of Elephant Snot.

And kill it does. It destroys, exterminates, eradicates and generally massacres unwanted graffiti (stress the unwanted). And it may be coming soon to a wall near you.

Three Midtown groups—Friends of Midtown, Midtown Square Action Council and Historic Harrisburg Association—have combined forces to fight the scourge of undesired graffiti and tags that mar brick and stone walls all over Harrisburg.

And, to accomplish this work, they’re employing a goopy substance that gets its name from the nasal discharge of the pachyderm.

“It’s truly a wonder substance,” said HHA Executive Director David Morrison. “It’s amazing how well it works.”

The groups settled on Elephant Snot (not actual elephant snot) after studying the best practices of Philadelphia’s anti-graffiti task force. The fast-acting product penetrates porous surfaces to remove paint without harming the building or environment.

A $1,000 grant from the Auchincloss Family Fund paid for the equipment and the initial dose of the substance, said Morrison.

The first target was the graffiti-pocked wall outside HHA on the driveway side. Other successes to date include the Salvation Army building and Kunkel Plaza. These removals also have served as educational events for Harrisburg residents with a goal of home and property owners taking graffiti removal into their own hands.

“We want to train as many people as we can to be removers,” Morrison said.

The process requires donning a chemical resistant smock before the product is glommed onto the wall, and, after five to 30 minutes, sprayed off with a pressure washer. All of these items are available for checkout through Friends of Midtown and HHA. Elephant Snot does not discriminate against paint types, so all painted materials, including painted brick, will need to be repainted.

In Harrisburg, graffiti removal can be a touchy subject, something acknowledged by Friends of Midtown’s Cate Rowe, who stressed that the target is unwanted graffiti as determined by property owners.

“The reason why we’re having property owners contact us is because we believe it’s up to the property owner to decide whether something is a tag or art,” said Rowe, Friends of Midtown’s beautification committee chair. “If you are a graffiti artist, and you put your mark on somebody’s home, and that person decides that it is not art, then they have the right to remove it.”

Rowe warned that property owners may need to remove graffiti multiple times as the tag might show up on the property again after initial removal. In cities like Philadelphia, murals have proven to be a strong deterrent, she said. In fact, it’s hoped that last month’s Harrisburg Mural Fest will deter grafitti on some of Harrisburg’s largest, most exposed and frequently tagged exterior walls.

“A graffiti-free city is missing the point,” Rowe explained. “You get into this decision of are you removing graffiti or are you removing art? As a property owner, you own it. You have the right to make it look beautiful and the way you want it.”

In some cases, there’s a fine line between art and graffiti, Rowe acknowledged, especially as some renegade artists have used city-owned surfaces as their canvasses, including utility boxes and street poles. What to do about that is up to the city.

“There are some really beautiful ones, and that’s the hard part,” Rowe said.

Morrison concurred that what is art and what is unwanted graffiti is in the eye of the property-owning beholder. To that end, he said he has been contacted by several building owners who would like tags removed. Removal efforts will include abandoned buildings if the property owner is open to it.

“We have a request to go to another site in Midtown next week,” he said.

Rowe hopes to work with residents to designate a wall where artists can express themselves without illegally defacing property. The idea, brought to them by a graffiti artist, also would remove the risk of graffiti art being removed by a property owner.

“Our goal is beautification of the whole city,” Rowe said.

For more information on graffiti removal, email

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